New Research: Genetics and Dyslexia

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Where learning disabilities and language impairments are concerned, the sooner a diagnosis is made, the easier it is to tackle. Nowadays, in a lot of cases, learning difficulties aren’t diagnosed until high school age – and by this point treatments are significantly less effective. So new research into the genetics behind dyslexia may be the answer to more early diagnoses.

Dr Jeffery Gruen and colleagues analysed more than 10,000 children born in 1991-1992, using those who were part of the ALSPAC study conducted at the university of Bristol. They used the data from this study to investigate the genetic components of reading and verbal skills more thoroughly. Through doing this they discovered that there may be genetic variants that can predispose children to dyslexia and language impairment. If this is the case, then early diagnoses and effective intervention techniques are more likely to occur.

As these are both pretty common learning disabilities, this discovery could prove to be very useful. Determining the sole cause has been difficult due to the complexity of the disorder, as well as the substantial genetic components that are hard to research. In the past, Gruen et al have uncovered dopamine related genes (ANKK1 and DRD2) involved in language processing, and through further studies other factors were uncovered as contributors to the disorder (such as prenatal exposure to nicotine). A further gene, DCDC2, has also been linked to dyslexia.

In this new study, they Investigated the DCDC2 gene further to uncover which parts of the gene are responsible for dyslexia and language impairment. It was found that some variants of the DCDC2 gene regulator (named READ1) are linked with problems in reading performance. Other variants of this gene are associated with verbal language performance.

A second dyslexia gene was found to interact with the above DCDC2 variants, this is the KIAA0319. Gruen proposes that when you have risk variants in READ1 and KIAA0319 then it has a huge impact on you reading, language, and even your IQ. And this increases the likelihood of developing dyslexia or language impairment.

Gruen et al’s findings give us an insight into the pathways in our brains for fluent reading and the components of these pathways, as well as how they can interact. And hopefully the result will mean that children can be diagnosed with these disorders sooner, increasing the success of treatment and intervention.

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Written by: Philippa Berry
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